Sometimes, being a world-renowned poetry group is simply not enough on its own. There is no point in being pre-eminent practitioners of poesy in the middle of a wilderness of prose – location is as important as locution. Take the ill-fated Border Bairds began by Rabbie Burns following the success of his own Ayrshire Airs. Despite selling many copies of his slim volumes, he was lucky to attract more than half-a-dozen crofters and hirders, and there’s only so many poems one can write about sheep. A similar problem dogged the Lakeland Lyricists that Willy Wordsworth hoped would spread culture through the uplands, but was often just him and a zonked-out Sammy Coleridge yet again.
No, to organise a successful literary jam, one needs to be located in a city, somewhere where all those romantic types can complain about the ruthless bustle of daily life while still accessing cheap garrets and decent coffee. And Ealing has long fitted the bill, being far enough from the smoke to feel like it’s in the country, but close to the railway to whisk one back into town in time for last orders. And the fact that the mainline in the other direction took one to the dusty dormitories of Oxford was another bonus, allowing student scribblers with pretentions to laureates an opportunity to test their latest verse well away from their fellows. The last thing a callow youth with a posh accent and a bright future in the Foreign Office wanted was for word to get back to the porter’s lodge that they were a secret soppy-headed sonneteer.
No shame among this week’s readers, as a confident Pat Francis brought a brief exclamation of sudden avian appearance perhaps best summed up as “wow, goldcrests !”. We were then treated to Peter Francis’ work-in-progress as an enigmatic cloche-hatted mother remembers the war – but where is it going ? We hope to find out soon. Michael Harris then related to us a dream starring a flooded road, his own mother in a car, and a determination to wade his own way across, followed by a touching appreciation of dawn by a sick man as told by John Hurley. Doig Simmonds then shared his thoughts about the next world, where he hopes to meet up with old loves, and Alan Chambers’ evocative cicada-filled dusk by an atmospheric pool – perhaps the very same dusk that Rithika Nadipalli spent with a bonfire and a hunger. Daphne Gloag meanwhile has been looking into absences and finding them full of words, and Roger Beckett has been going home to his folks and finding the years just fall away, but not in a good way, leading to Martin Choules telling us how he’s been lying awake at night from the worry that he might have insomnia.
One of those Oxonian odesmiths back in the mid-Twenties was a young Teddy Geisel, reading a PhD in English Literature and keen to meet his heroes in the tweed: Tom Eliot, Bobby Graves and Ziggy Sassoon. Alas, these luminaries did not take him very seriously, nor his earnest heartwrenchings about be-stockinged vixens, verdant eggs or mean-spirited festive-frustrating thieves, and surely the silly doodles besides the verses couldn’t have helped. All-in-all, following this regular ridicule, it is perhaps no surprise that he left Oxford without completing his thesis, deciding that if he wanted to call himself ‘doctor’ then who was going to bother to check up on him anyway ? But it seems he did leave one lasting impression of Tom Eliot, who seems to have his fellow-countryman’s idea of a hat-loving feline and twisted him into a Cheshire-cat crime lord.